Triggers And Mental Illness: How To Recognize Them

The struggle with mental illness is one that many people face daily. It can be difficult for people who don’t have mental health issues to understand what’s going on inside someone’s mind and how to help them. Triggers can be a huge part of that frustration for people with mental health issues. Triggers are things that set off a chain reaction in your brain, making your moods or symptoms worse. They’re different for everyone, so it’s important to know what your triggers are. It is essential for those with mental illnesses to know what their triggers are, how to identify them, and some ways to manage them.

We All Experience Triggers

Regardless of the existence or absence of a mental illness, emotional turmoils are a part of every individual’s life. There will inevitably be things that trigger anger, anxiety, fear, or distress in all of us. Due to life circumstances and events, some people go through more stress and trauma than others, triggering difficult emotions. There may even come a time when you experience a strong surge of feelings or emotions without any particular reason, and something has triggered that reaction in the mind and body. Often, people aren’t aware of what triggers them to have such an emotional reaction. 

Triggers can be a very powerful thing. They set off emotions, which generate responses — sometimes strong ones! These feelings might come up whether you want them or not. Regardless of your current situation and mental health status, you will be triggered by an emotional reaction. This is normal, and this is life. However, unpredictable triggers can be dangerous for people with mental illnesses. 

Have you experienced a surge in the number and intensity of your emotional reactions? Are you concerned about how to appropriately respond to your triggers? 

No worries. Continue reading to understand what triggers are precisely and how to effectively identify them in your own life.

What are Triggers?

Before you can set off on the journey of identifying and dealing with your emotional triggers, you must discover the meaning. Feeling “triggered” is an emotional reaction such as anxiety, despair, panic, negative self-talk, or discouragement to any external circumstance or event.

Let’s normalize triggers! 

Reactions to words, events, items, subjects, and people are natural. People say or do things that make us feel a type of way. Memories float through the mind causing an emotional reaction. A topic in a book or movie can stir up unwanted feelings. These are all a part of life and are unavoidable. Sometimes your body and mind react without knowing it. A lot of things occur inside of you when you are triggered. You might feel tense, adrenaline or cortisol may rush through your body, and you might want to leave the situation or even shut down completely. 

It is important to know your exact triggers and what goes on in your body and mind. Understanding how your body reacts to stimuli can help you curb any adverse reactions.  

Types of Triggers

What you consider a trigger might not be a trigger for other people you know. Everyone has a unique set of triggers, and the reasoning behind this is that everyone has had unique experiences in their lives that influence how they respond to events. For example, if you have experienced trauma, you may have different triggers surrounding that trauma compared to someone who has not shared those traumatic events. This is not to say that only people with trauma have triggers. Everyone has a set of triggers

The following are two lists containing common triggers. 

Domestic Causes of Triggers

  1. Financial stress
  2. Relationship or friendship breakup
  3. Distance from loved ones
  4. Personal loss
  5. Illness or prolonged diseases
  6. Moving 

Professional Causes of Triggers

  1. Revalidation or appraisals
  2. Career progression
  3. Professional exams
  4. Late working hours
  5. Dealing with complaints
  6. Coming face to face with traumatic events or people
  7. Hefty workload
  8. Uncertainty of geographical placements
  9. Complicated work relations

Signs You Are Experiencing a Trigger 

There is no specific list of triggers that applies to all, as triggers usually depend on an individual’s traumatic experiences. To identify and deal with emotional triggers related to events or circumstances, you must address the traumatic experiences you have experienced in the past. In addition, you must recognize your sentiments to triggering situations.

Triggers often result in adverse emotional reactions, including sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, insecurity, etc. When you are triggered and experience these emotions, your body may react in different ways, and physical symptoms arise.  For example, some people may experience shaking, sweating, nausea, accelerated heart rate, or dizziness when reacting emotionally to a trigger. Others include panic attacks, crying, or shutting down emotionally. It all depends on the individual and their experience with those triggers. 

Sometimes, physical or mental symptoms may occur without warning. In this case, you want to be mindful of your surroundings and analyze why you think you had such a strong reaction. It takes a lot of practice and patience to become more aware of your body and mind and how they respond.

As previously mentioned, there is no specific list of emotional triggers to counter. Instead, you will have to be mindful and identify a pattern of signs and symptoms when a trigger is present. 

Recognizing Your Triggers

Identifying triggers is a different process for everyone because of the personalized situations and past traumatic events that cause triggers. 

When recognizing your triggers, you must have a clear mind. It is easier to address past events and identify all the feelings in a safe and serene environment. Mindfulness is critical when trying to recognize your triggers and tackle them positively. If you aren’t mindful of how your mind and body react to specific events and stimuli, you won’t be able to identify your triggers correctly. Take some time each day to truly understand how you are feeling. Practice being more in tune with your body and mind. 

Don’t give up! Practice makes perfect. 

And if you need some help – therapy can assist you in coping with extreme reactions to triggers. Frequently people turn to adverse coping strategies to handle what life throws at them, and mental health specialists are equipt to handle it. If you are currently concerned about how you react to triggers and need help, don’t hesitate to seek out mental health treatment. 


Triggers are a part of life, and there is no way to avoid them. They might happen every day, multiple times a day, or only once in a while. Triggers can be various people, places, or things, affecting each person differently. Everyone needs to be proactive and understand their triggers to take steps to manage them. If you cannot cope with your triggers, it is important to seek professional help. Mental health is just as important as physical health.